Let’s Not Go to War With China

The word that strikes fear in the power elite is China. It’s not fear of an existential threat; rather it’s fear that America is becoming second fiddle in world politics. As a result, some believe, or say they believe, that war with China is inevitable. For them, that’s a fancy word for desirable.

Here’s an idea: let’s not go to war with China. China has nuclear bombs, although not nearly as many as America has. No good would come from war for the people of China, the American people, or almost everyone else if you don’t count the advocates of centralized authoritarian power here and the military-industrial complex. They will make out like bandits and murderers.

The limited choice between regarding China as an enemy (or adversary) and as a competitor is bogus. It’s neither. China is a country with lots of people. Yes, it has a bad centralized government that tells people in some ways what to do. But it’s neither “our” enemy nor “our” competitor. When Americans buy goods assembled in China (though the parts were made in many other places), they are cooperating, indirectly at least, with Chinese individuals acting together as a business firm. American consumers do not compete with Chinese manufacturers. If an American company makes a product that a Chinese firm also makes and exports, that is competition, but it’s against the Chinese firm not the nation of China.

We have to get over seeing the world economy as a race among nation-states. That attitude leads to limits on freedom here, such as tariffs and quotas. Despite much government interference, including from the U.S. government, we still have a world market, and that means a worldwide division of labor, which is cooperation.

No one who values individual liberty would want to live under the Chinese government. No political liberty exists, and economic liberalization is limited. Further, the Chinese government reportedly enslaves one or more groups. Whether that is true, I do not know. But it’s not grounds for war, whether nuclear or conventional.

The Chinese government, of course, looks after its security in its neighborhood, just as the US government does — except that the US government sees the whole world as its neighborhood. It surely doesn’t help that the US government conducts war exercises with Taiwan. China is the target. I presume China spies on the United States, but the US government spies on everyone, as we know from recent revelations. It’s what big (and smaller) powers do. Hide your secrets better.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the dispute over Taiwan, it is not a matter for the US government. Its claim to be acting for American security is about as believable as a Federal Reserve chairman declaring the American banking system sound. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and some small islands in the South China Sea are not our concern, not if we care about our own liberty and prosperity, not to mention the rest of the world’s. Needless to say, decent people will wish everyone in that region life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness, but a war won’t bring those things.

The concern over China affects other issues, as to be expected. The latest is social networking in the form of TikTok, a social network that 150 million Americans use. Joe Biden and congressional Republicans and Democrats (with honorable exceptions like Sen. Rand Paul) want to ban TikTok because it’s owned by a Chinese company and the Chinese government allegedly uses it, or may use it, to gather information about Americans. This is denied by TikTok’s CEO, who is not Chinese and who has American partners.

The irony here is that the Chinese government notoriously bans and restricts social networks for its people to keep them from learning what the communist party doesn’t want them to learn. In other words, those who would have the US government ban or otherwise interfere with TikTok want the government to be more like the Chinese Communist Party. I can’t find the sense in that.

As we well know the US government has routinely pressured American social networks to ban or restrict information and opinions it did not want the American people to learn. Do we want to give this government even more power? That’s exactly what members of Congress would do; pending legislation (acronym RESTRICT Act) would give the commerce secretary ominously broad and vaguely defined power to interfere with any social network allegedly to protect us from “foreign” influence. You know that can’t be a good idea. The government’s record to date in his regard is alarming. Government-connected organizations and individuals have interfered with the free exchange of ideas over the social networks by claiming that the sources of those ideas are foreign adversaries when in fact they came from Americans, as the Twitter Files about Hamilton 68 have disclosed.

Finally, China surprised everyone by facilitating renewed diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is good for several reasons, among them: it signals a waning of America’s role as the self-appointed world guardian. One hopes it will also formally end the brutal Saudi war against the Yemeni people. It should also thwart the US and Israeli governments’ ambition for war with, or capitulation of, Iran and undermine the pursuit of the Abraham Accords, begun under American arms-salesman-in-chief Donald Trump, which aim for a united front against Iran and further marginalization of the Palestinians. The Israeli and the US governments have wanted Saudi Arabia to sign such an accord. (Why hasn’t Biden reinstated the nuclear deal with Iran, which his old boss Barack Obama signed, and end the cruel sanctions against the Iranian people?)

I’ve heard commentators dismiss China’s Middle East diplomacy as naked self-interest because China buys Saudi and Iranian oil and wants uninterrupted commercial relations with both. But if China’s self-interest lies in substituting diplomacy for war, what’s wrong with that? Rational self-interest is a feature, not a bug. There are signs that China may do something similar with Ukraine and Russia. (Zelensky, but not Biden, says he’s interested.) A ceasefire should have been arranged a long time ago.

The American state has been a force for global disruption, misery, and war for a long time. Its repeated bullying over sanctions, regime-change operations, and covert and overt warfare have increasingly disgusted much of the world, which is fed up with the dominance of “the exceptional nation.” That had to happen sooner or later. The US government cannot design a world order. It’s time to liquidate the empire and come home. It not only harms foreigners but also makes Americans unfree and poorer.

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.